In high school, my parents’ gift of a fancy-ish Nikon inspired me to take roll after roll (remember those?) of photos of my friends lounging angstily on fire escapes and brownstone stoops, eating toast in diners and putting on lipstick and blowing out smoke from pilfered cigarettes. I love these photos, but they aren’t really photos of us – they’re photos of us trying to be someone else, someone closer to the picture of “cool” we held in our heads.
And then there are the years that I jokingly (but not really) think of as “the lost years” – when I forgot about my camera for one reason or another, and many months went by without a single photo. I have only one album from college, and it’s filled with shots from maybe three or four especially photogenic nights (a formal, another formal, a night my roommates and I got dressed up to go out and then decided to just stay in my room and drink bad tequila and dance to theFootloose soundtrack).
When I graduated and moved to California, my camera was stolen during a break-in, and I didn’t replace it for a long, long time. I have a few shots from nights out at clubs with friends, but not of the times I’d really like photos of: the nights spent sitting by the pool with my dad, looking up at the moon and the palm trees and talking. The long drives I took to Santa Barbara. I wish I had more photographs of my sweet friend. I think of him every day; I’d like to see his face.
On the night (morning, really) that Kendrick and I got engaged, we held out my little point-and-shoot at arm’s length and took a shot of ourselves as we crossed over a bridge heading back to our Las Vegas hotel, the sun rising in the background. We just took the one, and it’s just a snapshot, not one of those perfect engagement photos you see on Instagram these days…but I love it so much. In the years that followed, when Kendrick was off touring with his band and I was doing one thing or another to get by, I don’t think we took a single picture at all. And it’s true; it makes it harder to remember those years; the memories come more as feelings, flashes.
When I started blogging back in 2009, I didn’t even have a camera; my then-colleague had to give me one. And right away, we fell in love with that side of my new “job” (in quotation marks because it wasn’t exactly a job back then – or certainly not an income-generating one, in any case): suddenly having a constant record of where we’d been, what we’d seen, who we’d met. It felt like such an incredible gift.
Over time, my camera became an enormous part of my life, something I carried with me virtually everywhere, and mourned when I had to leave it at home for one reason or another (before leaving the house, the checklist: keys? wallet? camera?). But in these past couple of years, something has changed, and the camera has started staying home more often than not. On weekends, I take shots for the site while the kids are napping. When we go off adventuring, I take a couple of photos with my phone, and then I put it away.
I think it was Indy arriving, and then it grew stronger with Goldie. I don’t want to hold a camera.
I want to hold them.
I don’t want them to grow up more interested in recording than in living, thinking that nothing matters unless a photo is taken. I think that’s a danger of our current world and an extra-danger when your parent is a blogger and makes a living off of the documentation and re-telling of life.
I don’t want their memories of childhood to be set to the soundtrack of a click-click-click.
But despite all this internal conflict: I love photography so much. And I think that, when used in a way that enhances your life rather than taking you out of it, it has value beyond measure. I miss those lost years; there are so many people and places I wish I had just one single photo of, so I could remember them more clearly.
In my mom’s office, years ago, there was a framed photo of her and my dad from a weird, upwards-facing angle, and when I asked her about it she told me that it was the first photo I’d ever taken. I always thought it was such a cool thing for her to do, such a remarkable window into how I used to see the world. I’m so glad I know what my first photo looked like.
This is my son’s.
Here’s another. (That composition! That lighting! That total luck of the draw – which, incidentally, comprises a significant percentage of photography no matter what your age!)
I’m proud, both of the care he took with the camera and of his desire to capture a piece of his world. And I’m so excited for him to learn how to take photographs, how to document the moments that mean the most to him so that he can keep them forever, and look at them when he needs reminding. The trick that it took me awhile to learn and that I hope to teach him sooner rather than later: to pick it up, take the shot…and then put it down, and go live your life on the other side of the lens.
A couple of days after we brought Goldie home from the hospital, I was sitting on the couch feeding her and my son announced that he wanted to go kick a soccer ball outside. “Why don’t we wait for Mommy?” Kendrick asked him. “She wants to come too.”
“Mommy doesn’t like to go outside,” Indy said, and my heart broke.
That quickly – in just days – I had gone from being my son’s primary playmate and general partner in crime to the “un-fun” parent, the one who “didn’t want” to run and kick balls, or go swimming, or play hide-and-go-seek.
I want to do those things so badly. And all of a sudden, because of breastfeeding and recuperation from the birth and the fact that now we have two children and if one wants to go outside while the other is sleeping, we need to split up and that’s just how it has to be…I couldn’t do those things.
I missed him so much I felt it like a physical pain, a tightening in my chest when I thought of all the time we spent this summer adventuring together, picking strawberries in fields or just sitting in the sun and eating pancakes, and wondered whether we’d ever have that again.
When I was pregnant, virtually all of my friends who had more than one child told me that in the early weeks, at least, what was going to happen was that my husband was going to basically take charge of our toddler while I took care of the baby. So I knew that this was the way it was going to be, but still: in those first few days after we got home I missed Indy so much that I could hardly stand it. I scrolled through the photos I’d taken of our last trip to the zoo, photos of him sitting on a ride and smiling bigger than I’d ever seen him smile, and they made my heart hurt. Because now it was his dad making him smile, tossing him up and down in the water while I watched from the shade. It’s not that I didn’t want Kendrick to get that special time with his son – of course I did – it’s that…I guess I felt a little left out.
I don’t want to stop being a part of making our son laugh. I don’t want to be the parent sitting on the sidelines in our son’s – or our daughter’s, for that matter – memories of childhood.
It didn’t surprise me that it hurt to suddenly spend so much less alone time with my son…but you know what did surprise me? How quickly the adjustment went from painful to really, truly okay. I can see where the future is headed, and there’s time with all four of us, time alone with my son, time alone with my daughter…just time. And watching Indy with his sister…what she brings to his life – and he to hers – is worth everything. Watching him stroke her head when she cries and say “Ssh, it’s okay, it’s okay,” watching her snuggle into her big brother’s lap…it’s just worth every single rocky moment that’s happening in the right-now.
So while we adjust, I’ve been looking for ways to make the transition feel a little easier on everyone. It’s been two weeks now, and I’ve taken Indy out for a quick mom-and-son playdate a couple of times – just twenty minutes at the playground across the street, or a run across the beach while Kendrick and Goldie wait in the air-conditioned car - and even those mini-outings have felt like taking a dose of medicine, helping me to remember that we’re all still trying to find our footing in this new life as a family of four, but that my relationship with my first baby is still there, same as it always was. Things are in flux right now, and right now the fact is that Kendrick is the one throwing him around in the pool and running with him through parks…but I’ll be back running alongside them soon.
And in the meantime, there is this:
When we drive home from camp at the end of the day, Indy usually likes to sit quietly and listen to the radio. But yesterday, he said “I want to talk to you.”
What about? I asked him.
“I love you so much,” he said. “I can hold yours hand?”
So I reached back, and held his hand the whole way home.